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The irresistible return of Harry Kane

Bayern Munich may have been in turmoil this season but the England striker is in the form of his life

Photo: M. Donato/FC Bayern via Getty Images

“Nights like these can change a season,” said Harry Kane. It was early March, and he had just scored twice in Bayern Munich’s 3-0 win over Lazio.

The result overturned a 0-1 defeat from the first leg in Rome and propelled German football’s serial champions into the Champions League quarter-finals after months of turmoil in which Kane’s form – he has scored 37 goals in all competitions so far – has been one of the few constants. “That’s why we signed him,” beamed Bayern chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen of the club’s record £82m transfer. 

Victory also set up a return to north London for the former Tottenham Hotspur striker. Bayern now face Arsenal, at the Emirates on April 9 and back at the Allianz Arena eight days later. The Gunners are favourites to win the tie – but with Kane’s goalscoring, and his history with Spurs’ deadly rivals, against whom he scored 14 times in 17 Premier League appearances, you would be foolish to write the Bavarian side off.

That is despite a season of relative struggle for the 33-time German champions and six-time European Cup winners, who last endured a trophyless season in 2011/12. After 11 consecutive Bundesliga titles, Kane must have joined believing his first ever major senior trophy was assured. But in this, he may have been mistaken.

By the time of the return leg against Lazio, Bayern were ten points behind Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen and the club had already announced that head coach Thomas Tuchel would be leaving at the end of the season. Having also been knocked out of the German Cup by third-division Saarbrücken in the second round, the Champions League is Bayern’s only remaining realistic chance of silverware.

The club’s travails pre-date Kane, whose goals, including four hat-tricks, have ultimately papering over the cracks as the club attempts a second major rebuild after last season’s Glücksmeisterschaft – or “lucky title.”

After a tumultuous season which had seen former Chelsea coach Tuchel replace current Germany boss Julian Nagelsmann midway through the campaign, Bayern went into the final day two points behind Borussia Dortmund, who only had to beat mid-table Mainz at home to win the Bundesliga for the first time since Jürgen Klopp was in charge. But they could only manage a 2-2 draw while Jamal Musiala scored an 89th-minute winner for Bayern in Cologne, winning the league on goal difference.

Just moments after the final whistle and before the Bundesliga shield, the Meisterschale, had even been presented, Bayern chief executive Oliver Kahn and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic were ruthlessly dismissed. The pair had represented Bayern’s first attempt to transition away from the leadership duo of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß, who had steered Bayern through a decade of success which included two trebles.

But Salihamidzic’s transfer policy left Bayern with an unbalanced squad on unsustainable wages which has failed to progress beyond the Champions League quarter-finals since 2020 – including an embarrassing defeat to Spanish side Villarreal in 2022.

“The switch from Nagelsmann to Tuchel damaged Bayern’s image, as did the subsequent dismissals of Salihamidzic and Kahn,” says former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger, who believes that the signing of Kane was an attempt to “repair” the damage that has unwittingly proven Bayern’s undoing.

“They put everything on this one player, a transfer which attracted more media attention than ever before, but they forgot that they actually also needed a defensive midfielder and a full-back,” he explains.

Indeed, Kane wasn’t the first attempt to inject some stardust into a Bayern squad which, following the departures of Robert Lewandowski – whose record of 41 league goals Kane, on 31, is now in sight of – plus Thiago, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba, key pillars of the 2020 treble-winning side, appeared to be lacking in big names.

The arrival of Sadio Mané from Liverpool in June 2022 was accompanied by similar media fanfare, as the capture of an international star from a top Premier League club was celebrated in classic “FC Hollywood” manner.

But after missing three months through injury and being suspended for allegedly punching teammate Leroy Sané in the dressing room following a defeat away to Manchester City in the Champions League, the Ghanaian joined Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr having scored just seven Bundesliga goals for Bayern.

Meanwhile, in the boardroom, chief executive Kahn had launched his “FC Bayern Ahead!” strategy, a project to “counter the stagnation of our core business, the effects of the coronavirus crisis, the changing needs of the fans as well as the wealthy investors that are already increasingly bringing about momentous changes in international football.”

But the buzzwords which perhaps sounded great as part of Kahn’s master’s degree in business administration didn’t go down well on the Südkurve terrace behind the goal in Munich, where Bayern’s hardcore ultras made it clear on banners what they believed their club should stand for: “Part of the Bundesliga” and not a European Super League, “a member-led club” rather than one dominated by investors, and “red and white” – in contrast to some of the team’s more outlandish away kits.

The biggest protests centred on Bayern’s controversial sleeve sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways, with fan groups criticising Qatar’s record on human rights and refusing to allow their club to be used as a sportswashing tool. Following a heated annual general meeting in November 2021 during which Kahn and club president Herbert Hainer were viciously booed by members, the decade-long partnership was discontinued.

None of this will have concerned Kane directly, but he’s joined a club which is still very much in transition, on and off the pitch. “Kane has delivered, he’s been brilliant for Bayern, so it’s a shame that he might end this season without a trophy,” says Hitzlsperger. “Now it’s time for the recruitment department to put a team together for the next season that will live up to expectations.”

That job will fall to the new Bayern hierarchy under CEO Dreesen, sporting director Christoph Freund and the new director of sport Max Eberl, formerly of Borussia Mönchengladbach. Their biggest task is to identify a successor to Tuchel, with Leverkusen head coach Xabi Alonso just as highly thought of in Bavaria as on Merseyside.

But first, Bayern are still in the Champions League, and Kane returns to north London this week in the form of his life. Four days after his brace against Lazio, he added three more in an 8-1 thrashing of Mainz – his fourth Bundesliga hat-trick of the season. 

“Yes, he Kane!” headlined the local Munich Abendzeitung, while Kicker magazine dedicated a two-page spread to Kane’s “Rekord-Flut” – his flood of records: the most goals in a debut season, the first player to score four hat-tricks in his first season, the only Bundesliga player since 1963 with more goals than games …

The list goes on, putting the New European in the unusual position of asking Kane not what his favourite goal was, but which was his favourite hat-trick. “They all feel great in their own way,” he laughed. “But the one away to Borussia Dortmund was special.”

Back in November, Kane had scored three as Bayern brushed aside Dortmund 4-0 in Germany’s so-called Klassiker, and any doubts as to whether the 30-year-old was worth the money were quickly banished. “Initially, I wasn’t convinced,” admitted Markus, a Bayern supporter on the ICE train speeding through the Bavarian countryside en route to a win against Mainz last month in which Kane scored his fourth hat-trick of the season.

“I thought he was too old, too expensive and just scored penalties. But he’s so much more than a striker. He works hard defensively, he’s a great personality, he looks great in Lederhosen – and he scores goals!”

Those goals have come in all shapes and sizes. For Markus’ 12-year-old son Nils, sporting a Harry Kane shirt and cap, one in particular stands out: “Das Tor von der Mittelfeldlinie!” – the goal from the halfway line against Darmstadt in October. “But he’s also settled into the team really well and motivates the younger players.”

Shrewd observations which are shared by Hitzlsperger, a born-and-bred Münchner and former Bayern youth team player himself before winning the Bundesliga with Stuttgart in 2007.

“At first, I felt it was a lot of money for a 30-year-old with one year left on his contract,” he admits. “But he’s turned out to be a great signing on many levels. Of course, he scores goals, but he also drops deep and gets involved in the build-up play. That makes it difficult to defend against him since defenders don’t know whether to follow him or tell midfielders to pick him up.

“He’s also a very likeable guy and 100% a team player. He contributes to the team spirit, whereas Lewandowski seemed more concerned about his personal record than Harry is.”

The Polish striker scored 41 goals in the 2020/21 season to break the great Gerd Müller’s Bundesliga record which had stood at 40 since 1972. Kane needs 10 goals in Bayern’s eight remaining league games to match Lewandowski, requiring a serious strike rate of 1.25 goals per game. He’s currently averaging 1.19.

“I’ve come here to score goals and I’ve been able to do that,” he told TNE after the Mainz game, but admitted that Bayern’s team performances have left him with “mixed feelings.”

“Obviously it’s disappointing that we’re not higher up the league but you have to give Leverkusen credit for still being undefeated; they’re having a special season. We all want to win trophies, so ‘mixed feelings’ is a good way of putting it. Hopefully my goals will mean something by the end of the season.”

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